Operations & Management
It’s a small world
Is it possible manufacture a unique, innovative product without a plant? One Canadian company says it is.
Several years ago, two doctors at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, Paolo Campisi and Vito Forte, invented a device designed to improve the accuracy of diagnosing ear infections.
The invention, called the OtoSim, was shown to improve diagnostic efficiency by 44 per cent. The pair received funding from MaRS Innovation to make their product available on the market, but there was one problem. They had no plant where they could actually manufacture the product.
That’s when the folks at MaRS and OtoSim put a new twist on an old idea.
“We were confident about the technology,” says Andrew Sinclair, CEO of OtoSim Inc. “But the problem was converting it into a form we could actually manufacture and finding the right partners to make it.”
Contract manufacturing is certainly nothing new; it’s often the bread-and-butter of most small- to mid-size manufacturers. But over the past decade, many companies have outsourced manufacturing to China.
That simply wasn’t going to work for OtoSim, for a number of reasons. In the first place, the product needed to hit the market ASAP.
“If you’re getting something delivered from China there’s a four, five, eight, 10 or 12 week cycle,” says Sinclair. That kind of time frame wouldn’t work for OtoSim.
Sinclair says they were also still adapting and evolving the product. OtoSim didn’t have discrete material requirements, but rather certain performance requirements for each of the components. It needed to find manufacturers who could help them perfect the process of making those components.
Finally, as a start-up, OtoSim simply didn’t have the volume needed to order products from China. Instead, the company turned to local suppliers to get the job done.
Building relationships helps build an innovative product
Through word of mouth and networking, OtoSim found several Toronto-area suppliers to collaborate with, including MaticAir, in Concord, Ont., Formatic 2000 Inc. in Mississauga, Ont., Max Precision Turning Inc. in Concord and CompuSoft Development Ltd. in Toronto, to name a few.
Using local suppliers turned out to be a boon in more ways than one. For starters, the personal interaction made collaboration much easier than it would be if everyone were separated by time and space.
“There have been situations where we want to sit down with them and they can make suggestions,” says Sinclair. “It’s a whole bunch easier to do that face to face.”
Keeping it local also helped improve the manufacturing process. Because of the close, personal relationship the companies were building, many of the suppliers felt comfortable making suggestions on how to do things better.
For example, the team at MaticAir was able to make the device both lighter and easier to assemble with a few design changes.
“They would physically get the device in many pieces where they would have to put these little tiny bolts together and put the pieces together,” says Charles Cho, vice president of MaticAir. “I suggested we weld the two pieces together and minimize their physical hand labour.”
By using only local suppliers, OtoSim has been able to both keep its manufacturing costs low and get its product to market quickly. The business started in January 2011 and, within nine months, the first device was available for sale.
After the pieces are made at the various suppliers’ facilities, the final assembly is carried out at SickKids. That helps keep OtoSim nimble and responsive—and able to manufacture a product without ever touching it.
This article originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.